Choosing a venue for a PhD is an important decision which requires proper thought and assessment. Opting for a university based on simple criteria such as its proximity to your hometown, or the fact that it is located in an exciting city, are simply not enough. Much more concrete, and academically focused, questions need to be asked. Here are five important questions to keep in mind when selecting a suitable PhD programme.
What are my chances of finding a job on graduation?
This is a primary consideration, as no one really does a PhD for the pure fun of it, unless they are very wealthy indeed. When you have completed your studies, you will need work which properly compensates you for the time spent completing the PhD. Ask educational institutions what their employment rate is like for post-graduate students
. It might also be worth enquiring as to how strong the university's links to prospective employers are. An institution which has strong links with private companies is likely to offer more chances of future employment.
How flexible is the PhD programme?
The amount of flexibility in a PhD programme often depends on the subject area in which you are working. Humanities and arts departments tend to offer a greater degree of flexibility than more science-orientated programmes. If you are weighing up a choice between studying in North America or the UK, then it is worth remembering that North American institutions offer slightly less flexibility than their European counterparts. You need to see whether you can pick and choose elements which suit you, or whether the whole programme is prescribed from start to finish.
What resources are available for research?
The second part of your PhD programme will involve researching a major dissertation. You therefore need to know that there are plenty of available resources which can support the research you will be compelled to undertake. This goes far beyond simply having a well-stocked library and good computer networks available. You also require office-based administration support, photocopying services and a whole host of other things to ensure your success. Any institution which is lacking in any element of support should be avoided. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to complete work due to an issue with administration or a lack of research materials.
How versatile is the department?
Versatility is a relative concept, but it is worth investigating. Some departments may have a strong tradition of favouring one research method over others. This might not suit your way of working. Other departments at other venues may prefer a more radical approach, and welcome the introduction of new research methods or teaching styles into their programme. A broader tradition of research methodologies may suit you, or you may prefer the security of knowing exactly what is expected of you. Larger departments tend to provide a wider spectrum of methods and potential areas of study.
What are the non-academic features of the institution like?
As well as the academic facilities on offer, it is also worth taking a close look at the other types of amenities
available at a particular university. If you have a keen hobby, such as playing a team sport, then it is a good idea to see if the university offers facilities which will enable you to continue with it throughout your period of study. Smaller towns tend to offer less in the way of cultural or social amenities. There may also be issues with disabled provision at smaller universities in smaller towns. You are going to spending a significant amount of time in a place, so never neglect this aspect of university life.
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To PhD or not to PhD, that is the question…